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Organic Wealth: Re-introducing the bounty afforded us by plants

Updated: Feb 28, 2019

Clement Waters Retreat founder Joy Ellsworth invites us into the stories which drive her work. Then she gives details about a new program by Clement Waters Retreat that delivers food gardening encouragement to families who have known need in Kansas City.

Allow me to tickle your fancy with three unique stories that could have been experienced over the same soil, within three distinctly separate ages of human existence. You'll notice certain threads of commonality that run between them. For me, the most striking common experience is that all three stories involve families. I'll let you find the other blatant commonalities on your own.


Scenario No. 1: The Natives

Imagine you're a member of the Nutachi people, whose ancestors came to North America via a legendary migration over a vast land bridge. Your elders tell stories of families having to move further and further south as the glaciers started getting bigger and bigger every year. Your people finally made a home in the peaceful hills at the confluence of the Kansas and Missouri Rivers. Your village is surrounded by a rich selection of biodiverse food-growing garden spots that use the fertile river ecosystem to produce ample harvests, year after year. When you go to bed at night with your family, the last things you see before you fall asleep are the drying grain and herbs hanging in the pole rafters of your earthen lodge. You worked to cultivate and harvest that preserved wealth that guarantees the survival and good health of your family. Those drying plants, and the seeds that you saved from them, represent palpable security for your family and all the generations to come.


Scenario No. 2: The Pioneers

Now imagine you're a pioneer on the same spot a hundred years later. You came to the newly established United States to escape overcrowding and cultural oppression in Europe, only to find it again in the teeming cities on the Eastern seaboard. As an Irish immigrant to the new country, you are not part of the established English power structure. In pursuit of wide-open spaces, you've traveled with your family to reside in dugout after dugout, as you travel further and further west toward someplace that feels like a good place for permanence. Between dugout stops, your spice rack and your supply of canned preserves are what keep the whole family going. When a move is necessary, you keep the seeds, tubers and bulbs from the plants that make your favorite foods, and you plant them in the next place. They are part of what makes each subsequent 'home' a home.


Scenario No. 3: The Survivors

Now imagine you're a new Kansas Citian, fresh to the area from where your family sharecropped sugar cane in northern Louisiana. You relocated together after the demands of the Jim Crow South threatened your family's safety one too many times. Though you find similarly alarming qualities in the politically and socially powerful people up here, there are fewer blatant rules that hinder your family's right to a decent life. The whole family makes time after work to cultivate the earth in the backyard of your town-home's skinny city lot. You root a plum cutting from a neighbor's tree, and they give you surplus plums for years until your tree produces enough fruit. The potatoes, squash, beans, tomatoes, greens and radishes grown from the seeds you brought from down south take up the entire backyard, but it's all worth everyone's work. After a bit of canning and sun-drying, all of the food stores nicely in your home's basement. Everyone's jobs combined still don't cover all the necessities in the wintertime, but your family eats well, thanks to the preserves and root crops.


Throughout human history's difficult patches, we live better because of our stewardship relationship with edible plant species. Many times the health of that relationship has been the deciding factor between chronic disease and long-term health, sometimes even between life and death. Humanity may need to rely upon that relationship again someday. In reality, even today, many families living with twinges of basic need would benefit from rekindling that relationship.

An example of bio-intensive garden layout with companion plants.
An example of bio-intensive garden layout with companion plants.

These are all reasons that in 2019, Clement Waters Retreat is working to encourage the instinctual skill of producing home-grown food. We encourage that latent skill in Kansas City populations who don't seem to be connecting with larger food gardening organizations. The program provides biodiverse garden plans based on each gardener's available growing area, free heirloom direct-sow seeds or established seedlings, and ongoing coaching when things go wrong in the garden.

Keeping in harmony with our organization's indigenous influences, we are teaching cultivation methods that have been popularized in recent decades as 'organic.' For the new home gardener, this means not having to pay for inputs like fertilizer, herbicides or pesticides. Our bio-intensive garden designs translate into more native plant use and less watering requirements for food production.

Participating in this program will also mean personal coaching on where to find organic gardening support in other efforts around the metro, including growers' groups, online communities, and of course, larger organizations like Kansas City Community Gardens and Cultivate Kansas City.

We are working exclusively with populations who struggle to achieve a family-supporting wage. It is our goal to support 50 backyard food gardens in the 2019 growing season.

You can support one backyard food garden for the entire summer with a recurring gift of as little as $5 per month. A little bit truly goes a very long way. Thank you.

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